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Carnivals in France


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Dunkerque Carnival in the north of France

Dunkerque Carnival in the north of France

© Dunkerque Tourist Office

Little Dunkerque holds the biggest and most popular carnival in northern France, running from the end of January to the middle of March on weekends and certain weekdays. And it prides itself on being the noisiest and most mental event of its kind. It began in the 18th century as a special feast before the visscherbende (groups of fishermen) set sail for the icy and dangerous Icelandic water to catch the lucrative cod.

Dunkerque Carnival is certainly local and has as its main events games and songs that might leave you totally confused. The action revolves around the fisherbands who confront each other with songs as they parade the streets. A costumed drum major leads the musicians dressed in yellow fishermens' raincoats while the crowds sing traditional songs and roar their approval. It has all the elements for a successful festival: Giants (who are not burnt), music, satire and a general sense of madness.

The parades last around 5 hours from 3 to 8pm, finishing at the Town Hall where the crowds demand 'what they deserve', that is 450 kilos (992 lbs) of kippers which are traditionally thrown off the belfry. The parade then makes its way to Jean Bart Place for more singing, as well as celebrating sailors and honouring Jean Bart, a French naval commander and pioneer from Dunkirk who had considerable success against the English (the natural enemy).

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